Sussex Police detain BBC cameraman under anti-terror law for taking photo of Hove Town Hall

Posted On 04 May 2017 at 10:16 pm

Sussex Police detained a man who was taking photographs of Hove Town Hall on behalf of the BBC this afternoon (Thursday 4 May).

Eddie Mitchell was held under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which permits police to stop and search someone if they have genuine reason to believe that he or she could be a terrorist.

An hour later Mr Mitchell was released even though he refused to play along and identify himself.

Colleagues suggested that police knew perfectly well that he was a bona fide member of the press going about his lawful business otherwise he would have been kept in custody.

Here is the picture that he took (below) that led to his being detained and his camera confiscated. A fellow member of the press suggested that if he were a member of the public rather than someone filming for the BBC, he may have needlessly ended up in the cells.

He said: “This is the sort of behaviour which prompts concern at the highest level when it’s Robert Mugabe’s thugs in Zimbabwe or it happens in somewhere like China. But I bet they just wash their hands of it here.

Mr Mitchell was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “I respect wholeheartedly that the police have a job to do but there should be clarity on people taking pictures in a public place – it is not a crime … As far as I am concerned, it is a total misuse and abuse of power.”

Section 43 of the Terrorism Act states: “A constable may stop and search a person whom he reasonably suspects to be a terrorist to discover whether he has in his possession anything which may constitute evidence that he is a terrorist.”

Sussex Police said: “A man who was taking photos of Hove Town Hall was politely asked by a member of police staff why he was doing so and declined to give a reason or identify himself.

“He was invited into the police front office where he was spoken to by two police officers but he continued to refuse to provide information or identification and as a result was searched under section 43 of the Terrorism Act.

“As a result of the search, which included the camera equipment he was using, it was established that his activity was not suspicious and he was allowed to leave.”

Chief Superintendent Lisa Bell, divisional policing commander for Brighton and Hove, said: “I am satisfied that the action my officers took was completely appropriate when the threat level is at severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.

“If the man had identified himself, then the matter could have been resolved in minutes.”

Mr Mitchell said: “I wasn’t challenged by a police officer. I was asked what I was doing. I said I was a photographer taking pictures of the town hall, simple.”

One of the other journalists present said: “If they genuinely believe that he might be a terrorist, why did they let him go?

“There were no reasonable grounds to suspect that someone who regularly takes pictures for the BBC and Sussex Police themselves could actually be a terrorist.

“It smacks of someone either abusing their position or wasting their time trying to stop Eddie lawfully doing his job when they could have spent that time properly protecting the public from the very real threat that exists – or even from the run of the mill crime that plagues places like Brighton and Hove.

“It’s no wonder the clear up rates are so dismal when they mess around like this, throwing their weight around.

“Almost everyone in Sussex Police knows Eddie. They’ve used his photographs in official documents like annual reports – and so has the fire brigade. And he regularly helps them by sharing pictures of people who are wanted or missing.

“To even try to pretend he’s a terrorist is to trivialise and devalue the really important job that so many of their colleagues do in protecting the public. It’s a waste of police time.

Pictures of Hove Town Hall, from more than 200 images on the first page of a Google search, not one of which led to police detaining the photographer

“It’s not just a farce but a triumph for terrorists everywhere.”

So far as is known, Mr Mitchell is the first person to have been detained for taking a photograph of a public building in Sussex.

Last week the journalism trade title Press Gazette said: “It is perhaps no coincidence that countries with the best record for press freedom are also the richest and most successful.

“On the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index map those at the top of the table are coloured white and include: Norway, Sweden, Germany, Holland and Denmark.

“It should be a source of shame and sadness to our elected politicians that the UK is coloured yellow on the map and ranks alongside Trump’s America on the ‘could do better’ list at number 40.”

Other countries ranked alongside Britain include Chile and southern African states where arbitrary detention can also be an occupational hazard.

In 2000 Britain ranked 21 places higher at number 19.

When the Prime Minister Theresa May was Home Secretary she accepted a European Court ruling that stopped the police using section 44 of the Terrorism Act to stop and search journalists arbitrarily.

She said that police forces would have to rely on section 43, requiring them actually to have reasonable grounds to suspect that the person they had stopped to search was potentially a terrorist.

Sussex Police did not state what those reasonable grounds were in the case of Mr Mitchell.

  1. Tom Nicholls Reply

    Milking it for publicity, this lad. needs to get over himself.

  2. anon Reply

    What isn’t emphasized in this story is that the police asked him what he was doing to which he refused to answer. No wonder they got suspicious. I would have been too

    • Roger Gilroy Reply

      He doesn’t have to answer that question unless they had evidence warranting him being defined a terrorist, is harrassing a member of the public well within their Lawful Rights acceptable, and of course PCSO’s going beyond call of their legally defined duties.

  3. anon Reply

    …also, he wasn’t detained for taking a photo of the town hall; as the headline suggests, but because he wouldn’t tell the police what he was doing. Both he and the headline of this article were intentionally misleading and suspicious

    • Valerie Paynter Reply

      If you are flying a camera drone or aiming a camera at a building, does that REALLY need explanation?

  4. J Corbyn Reply

    . With the current high alert status he should be grateful that someone had the presence of mind to ask “what are you doing?” Simple answer of Im a press photographer taking library shots would have ended the situation. Fine him for wasting police time and being a comple #knob

  5. Valerie Paynter Reply

    All those commenting above need to understand that the police KNOW that taking photos of public buildings is legal and allowed. Any officer who does not know, needs retraining.

    There needs to be a reason to stop and search someone and to use the Terrorism Act. None has been provided. And police cannot just walk up to someone for no good reason and demand they explain what they are doing and to provide their name. Believe it or not they DO have to justify their actions.

    ANYONE can take photos at any time of any public building without having to say why or what for. We are not North Korea!

    The police DID misuse their powers on this occasion and over-ride Eddie’s rights and privacy.

    Every once in a while this happens somewhere in the country and it gets in the press, just like every once in a while a checkout person demands that an OAP show proof of age when buying alcohol and refuses to sell it to them if they don’t do it.

    Presumably J Corbyn, anon and Tom Nicholls commenting here would say that if an OAP cannot prove they are over 21 they deserve to be challenged and refused sale of alcohol.

    The reason why abuses of power must be challenged is so power-tripping, authoritarian nutters are not encouraged to think their brutality is acceptable, nor are they free to destroy our precious freedoms, personal privacy and way of life. And nor should someone in uniform having a bad day be free to take out their frustrations on members of the public. We need a serious explanation for why Eddie was treated like this.

    • Roger Gilroy Reply

      Wonder if any Senior Police Officers know the Law, appalled that support given to junior staff acting well beyond authority has been given. Perhaps Internal Investigation, slapped wrist, matter closed will happen

    • Kim Jong-Un Reply

      Do you wear a tin foil hat around the house?
      There is only one power tripping, self-righteous person involved in this story.

  6. Rostrum Reply

    Valerie Paynter… I think the reason he was questioned using ‘section 43’ was because he was being and unreasonable, argumentative and rude sod. The police and council security personnel are there for a reason. To safeguard the public and council property.
    He should have been helpful not obstreperous.
    We all know photography per se is not a crime or even a problem but it can also be ‘used and abused’.
    Simply by being polite and helpful this person would have save everyone involved aggravation.

  7. Ann Reply

    This is the same idiot who got arrested for flying a drone over a fire scene allegedly trying to film the dead bodies coming out in Surrey a couple of years ago.
    He was rude and arrogant then as well and according to his twitter, he came away with 10K for that.
    If he works for the press, BBC and West Sussex Fire Brigade as he claims on his twitter, why not just show ID and give your name – end of. But no, he had to be rude, arrogant and cause a fuss, then go whining to the press with his one sided story.
    He wasn’t detained for taking a photo – IT WAS HIS MANOR AND “YOU CANT TOUCH ME” ATTITUDE.
    Be interesting to find out if he realy does work for the BBC and Fire Brigade as he says – or does he just say this to gain access to get pictures to sell and make money!

  8. Kim Jong-Un Reply

    I think the photographer in question craves attention and wants his 5 mins in the limelight.
    He was obviously being rude and arrogant and he was detained for not answering basic questions, not because he was taking photos of a Town Hall. This article is beautifully biased, probably written by a journalist who ‘looks up to’ Mr. Mitchell.
    Ok so the police don’t have the authority to demand this information but to refuse and then bleat on and on about how they detained you and didn’t treat you nicely is pathetic and stinks.
    Just because he takes photos for the BBC doesn’t make him Ruler of Brighton and Hove.
    Are people that soft and easily offended now that they want to make a huge scene and flap about because someone asked them what they are doing?

  9. Lance Manion Reply

    Wow, what a bunch of what we call “boot lickers” over here across the pond. Ms. Paynter’s comments above give the best explanation where our fellow commenters make such sorry excuses and victim blaming. The common responses I often read in these much too common of situations…’if only he had just complied or shown ID none of this would have happened’, Such nonsense wording is also used against minorities to rationalize away their loss of liberty under the guise of safety.
    Photographs of anything and everything are readily available on the internet. Any real person wanting to do harm would not be stupid enough to produce an artful, static image in an open and notorious manner knowing full well it puts them at risk. Therefore, any reasonably thinking person should conclude in mere seconds that this person was simply taking photographs in a public space where there is no expectation of privacy nor an unlawful act in and of itself. Like us Yanks, you too pretend to live in a “free and open society” and police actions such as these erode the very fabric of democracy. I am a street photographer in NYC and have had my own instances of police intimidation over absolutely nothing. I am aware of what section 43 and 44 mean in the UK and have, for years, followed the plights of harassed photographers in both countries. The BBC photographer in this instance was absolutely in his right not to comply to such absurdity and can have whatever attitude he wishes. Don’t we all get annoyed at our jobs when we are needlessly interrupted by stupidity? Best to you all. L.M.

    For more on this subject please visit: This blog originally began as a way to document harassment and unlawful arrests of photographers which due to the abundance of scenarios very quickly became a collection of all police misconduct captured on video. Read at your own dismay or enlightenment.

  10. The truth Reply

    This article is badly written and very biased.

    And if he wants to play smart and be the tough guy, why then moan and complain that he wasn’t treated fairly?

    If I were taking pictures outside a school and refused to give my name or reason for being there would that also be ok?

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